One of my favourite film festivals in Hong Kong is Kino, the German film festival that is hosted each year by the Goethe-Institut. Their selection of films is always topical and thought-provoking, and this year is no exception. (They screen some comedies too, so it’s not all doom and gloom!) But a few things are different this year – opening night will take place at the Grand Cinema at Elements, a decision that was most likely made in response to the event’s increased attendance over the years. Fans of German cinema in Macau are also in luck this year as the festival will be screening eight films at the Cinematheque – Passion, which is located adjacent to the historic Ruins of St. Paul’s.
Ten full-length films and one short film program will be screened at this year’s event. Here is a sampling of four of the feature films:
13 Minutes (Elser)
I’m not surprised that this is the festival’s opening night film. We are currently witnessing the rise of far-right and far-left political parties, not just in Germany but in many other countries around the world. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (DOWNFALL) revisits Nazi Germany with a story that is based on true events. In November 1939, Georg Elser planned and carried out an elaborate plot to kill Adolph Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich. But Hitler left the beerhall earlier than expected and survived the attack. Had he stayed there another 13 minutes, the world would be a very different place today.
13 MINUTES is generally well made (save for a hallucinogenic sequence that seems terribly out of place) but the film suffers from a lack of suspense. We know how it ends. To compensate, father-daughter screenwriting team of Fred (SOPHIE SCHOLL) and Léonie-Claire Breinersdorfer, offer up a hefty amount of Elser’s backstory, from his days as a carefree, accordion player to his affair with the unhappily married Elsa, which is shown in flashbacks. The film stars Christian Friedel who may be best known for his role as the School Teacher in the 2009 film, THE WHITE RIBBON.
All in all though, 13 MINUTES is a good film that sheds light on a piece of history that few people know about.
COLONIA is another film that has its roots in history. In this film, which is set in the early 1970s, Emma Watson (the HARRY POTTER series; NOAH) stars as Lena, a German flight attendant for Lufthansa, who gets caught up in a web of political intrigue in Chile after her German activist boyfriend, Daniel (Daniel Brühl, GOOD BYE LENIN!), gets arrested by DINA, president Augusto Pinochet’s secret police. Lena learns that Daniel was taken to a secretive place called “Colonia Dignidad” (Dignity Colony), which was founded by German émigrés in the 1950s and run like a cult by the enigmatic Paul Schäfer (played by Michael Nyqvist, JOHN WICK) since his arrival there in 1961. To rescue Daniel, Lena decides to join the colony but she quickly learns that while getting in is relatively easy, getting out is impossible.
Like her HARRY POTTER co-star, Daniel Radcliffe, Watson isn’t shy about taking on meaty acting roles. Unfortunately, this film was not the right one for her. The biggest problem I had with this film was that the actors all spoke English, rather than Spanish and/or German. That was clearly done to accommodate Watson and to get the project greenlit. For the first ten minutes, I thought Lena was British rather than German.
That aside, the story is never boring. It also sheds light on a piece of history that few know about.
The Zika virus is in the news now too, with three cases being reported in Hong Kong in the past few weeks. For most people, getting the virus is no big deal but if you’re trying to have a baby or if you’re already pregnant, it can be devastating. If you knew that your child would be born severely disabled, what would you do?
That’s the dilemma stand up comedian Astrid Lorenz (Julia Jentsch, SOPHIE SCHOLL) and her partner/manager Markus (Bjarne Mädel, German TV’s CRIME SCENE CLEANER) must face (though Zika is not the culprit here). At first, the prospect of having a child with Down’s Syndrome is something that Astrid is ready to accept even though her nanny has already told her that she won’t look after the child while Astrid is working. But when the news about the baby’s health turns even worse, Astrid must decide whether she should continue with the pregnancy. In Germany, it’s possible to have a mid-to-late term abortion so the option is there for her if she can live with the decision.
24 WEEKS tackles a very sensitive and controversial subject with tremendous restraint. It doesn’t preach, nor does it lead the audience in one direction or the other. We feel for Astrid as she agonises over what’s best for her unborn child and for her family, hoping that we never have to be in her shoes.
This is a very powerful film with great performances throughout. It’s also a very challenging film to watch.
Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da)
Making light of Hitler has always been considered taboo, especially in Germany, and the few films in recent years that have decided to dive into the deep end, so to speak, have mostly flopped. Now comes another attempt, this time based on the very successful book, “Er ist wieder da” (He’s There Again), that came out in 2012.
In this story, it’s 2014 and Hitler has miraculously crawled out of his bunker in Berlin alive and not a day older than he was in 1945… except no one believes that he’s really who he says he is. Today’s Germans just think he’s a comedian who does an amazing imitation of Der Fuhrer and they laugh when he does his racist shtick on national TV and on YouTube. But slowly, slowly, the audiences stop laughing because they agree with what he says about what he thinks is wrong with the country today.
LOOK WHO’S BACK pokes a very sharp stick at Germany’s neo-Fascists and others who may agree with some of the positions put forth by the country’s far-right groups. Those who are currently following the US presidential elections will plainly see the parallels between this Hitler and one of the American candidates. We start out laughing because we want to believe that the world has learned the lessons from history but, before long, we’re shaking our heads in sadness because we realise that so many people haven’t.
There are a number of scenes in the film where “Hitler” is speaking with the everyday people of Germany and my understanding is that these were all unscripted. If you think fascism can’t make a comeback, you need to watch this film.
For more information about Kino/16, please visit the Goethe-Institut’s website.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 28:55.)
You can also hear me on Radio 3 (different interview). Click on “Howard Elias – Films” and slide the time bar over to 26:00.)
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